Coronavirus calculation: No child care, no economic recovery

The child care industry is on the ropes and we must move quickly to save it

The coronavirus pandemic has hit every part of our economy. But while we hear so often about prominent businesses or industries affected by this, what does not get talked about is how it has devastated an industry that has served as a glue keeping the other parts of our economy together -- child care.

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The child care industry is on the ropes and we must move quickly to save it.

PARENTS WORRY ABOUT COST OF CHILD CARE AFTER CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC: SURVEY

Parents and child care providers were already facing serious economic challenges before the outbreak, particularly around accessibility and affordability.

Somewhere along the way, the notion grew that child care was for wealthy families for whom it is just another expense. Let’s dispense with that myth once and for all.

COVID-19 has only exacerbated these difficulties, which will become an existential problem should Congress and the administration fail to act.

Here’s what child care means for all of us:

  • 15 million parents and 8.7 million children depend on child care.
  • Approximately 10 million jobs and an annual economic impact of nearly $100 billion.
  • A return of between $4 and $16 for every dollar spent on child care, according to Chicago Child-Parent Centers and the Carolina Abecedarian Project.

Somewhere along the way, the notion grew that child care was for wealthy families for whom it is just another expense. Let’s dispense with that myth once and for all.

Just as COVID-19 can affect people of any gender, race or socioeconomic status, the lack of a strong child care system affects every family in need of a support system.

One in five poor children in America use center-based child care, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Already, in the recent COVID-19-related economic downturn, 30 percent of child care providers have closed.

That not only means 3 million people out of work and approximately 2.6 million children with potentially inadequate care, but that as our economy re-opens, it will be impossible for families at those now-closed centers to return back to their places of work until we find, and fund, a solution.

Child care workers are essential workers.

They’re essential to the children they help develop.

They’re essential to the parents who rely on them not just to help educate their children, but to allow the parents to go to their workplace.

They’re essential to the rest of us, too, who depend on businesses essential and non-essential to re-open and the next generation to have the early childhood education necessary to take on any challenge.

Some states and municipalities have stepped up, providing funding that child care centers will need to function so that our kids are taken care of, parents can go back to work and our economy can re-open. But even more states have not, which highlights the glaringly insufficient federal response.

Fortunately, legislators in the House and Senate are listening and have introduced a strong proposal to support $50 billion in child care relief.

The Child Care is Essential Act is a smart way to address the current challenges being faced by the child care industry.

It authorizes and provides emergency funding toward a new Child Care Stabilization Fund that would provide grants to child care providers, stabilizing the sector and supporting providers to safely reopen and operate.

The resources would make it possible for providers of all types to cover operating expenses, pay staff, promote health and safety in line with public health guidance, and provide tuition and copayment relief for working families -- regardless of whether they live in urban or rural, or rich or poor areas.

Since COVID-19 first became a crisis in the eyes of most Americans, we have had a national conversation over the importance of safely reopening the economy, of alleviating inequality in our country and making sure that every family has a real opportunity to get back to work.

That means numerous industries such as retail, automotive, hospitality, and many more won’t be up and running again as we knew them before the pandemic until we solve the child care crisis.

And we can’t get there until Washington acts -- and acts now.

Lynette M. Fraga, Ph.D., is Chief Executive Officer of Child Care Aware® of America, a national nonprofit organization working to advance a high-quality, affordable child care system.